After leaving the Computer Complex, a three-minute drive brought us to a corridor labelled "Main Elevators". After two more minutes in this tunnel, we arrived at a multi-sided room about 150 feet across and 15 feet high. Forty to fifty other people and half a dozen carts were already there, entering or exiting the twenty elevators that opened into this lobby.
We exchanged salutes with nearby people, then crossed the room toward several doors marked "Carts Only". We pulled up to one and the door whooshed open when Orii tapped a button on the cart's console. We drove in, the door closing softly behind us. The shaft was circular, and as we began to move, the floor rotated to align us facing the doorway. After twenty seconds of descent, we stopped at Level 15.
When we exited, I saw a sign that announced "Medical And Bio-Sciences". Lin-Erri spoke as we crossed the lobby to the farthest of twelve corridors. "There are what you might call dispensaries or clinics on every level and in the Terran bases, but the central medical facility for them all is down here. It handles emergencies, routine care and research for both lunar and Earth bases.
"We're going to the implant section now. I think you'll be very interested in what goes on in there." The lady had a remarkable talent for understatement. I tried to take in all the sights as we drove for several minutes along the perimeter corridor. There was an abundance of wall artwork, possibly as a psychological stimulus for whatever patients were here. The air was pure and fresh, with none of the odors we tend to associate with medical centers. In fact, aside from signs and labels, there was nothing at all to suggest the purpose of this level.
We stopped at a wide door marked "Implant Processes" and drove right through as it slid aside. Parking was provided in the lobby. Two people were awaiting our arrival, and after the usual salutes were passed, they came over to me and introduced themselves.
"I'm Tren-Kelar, the semi-unofficial implant authority here. This is MedTech Sara-Leni. Come on in, Bob." I followed them through the inner door, the rest of my party remaining in the anteroom. We entered a comparatively small room, about 30 feet square and 12 feet high, with light green walls and a contrasting brownish tiled floor. In the center of the room was a most imposing machine suspended from the ceiling.
Around the walls were various terminals and consoles, and a display case of sorts. Tren motioned to me to take a seat, then went over to the case and removed a small plastic box. He handed it to me and invited me to examine its contents.
"This is our latest cerebral transceiver implant. It's a seventh generation unit. The one in your head now is second generation, useless with the new implant macrosystems. It uses molecular-level bio-electronics. It's invisible to X-rays, nuclear magnetic resonance and ultrasound, and invulnerable to radiation or energy other than what it's designed to transmit and receive.
"It operates by interacting with a low-energy field generated by a precisely-located grid of transponders on every Alliance world, here on the moon, on your Earth and in our crafts. It's undetectable to normal electronics because it functions similarly to telepathic energy, operating on a plane beyond physical or electronic senses.
"It's ordinarily powered by the field itself when it's within one, and by the brain when it's not, although it's of limited use outside of a grid. When the person wishes to activate it, a subconscious mental command is given, and it switches on. The grid senses the activity, instantly reads the ID code, and plots the individual's physical position within the grid, as a safety feature if it's needed." As he was speaking, I studied the minute whitish device through the magnifying cover of the box, my amazement increasing with his every sentence.
"After that, it's linked via one of up to five billion channels to the planet's implant communication network, where the user then commands the net's computers to perform the desired tie-in, to another user, a data bank or whatever. It also has a local mode for use with the sensor bands that you saw in use in the computer room." He stopped talking for a moment to switch on a visiscreen on the left wall. It displayed a greatly magnified view of the device and a chart of its features.
"The implant has several major functions, among them communication, computer interface, Alliance identification, security-coded craft control, teleportal keying, direct education, replica programming and so on." He took the box from my hand and returned it to the case, then came back to where I was seated.
"The reason I'm telling you all this is that we're about to swap yours for one of these." My eyebrows played tag with my hairline on that one. "Master Kalen-Li has cleared this with Alliance authorities, and he feels that in the next phases of our operations, in which you'll be far more closely involved, you'll require this access to our systems and the protection it affords from the bad guys, as you say."
He brought me over to the low padded table beneath the machine, and directed me to lie on it with my head in the recess of a narrow extension from the right end. I did so and stared up at that thing four feet above me. It was at once fascinating and fearsome-looking.
"Don't worry, Bob," Sara said, "it only hurts for about six months." She laughed merrily as she wheeled over a cylindrical device with a two-foot aperture in its center. Its rollers engaged tracks in the floor, and it stopped with a snap as magnetic brakes apparently locked it in place, my head now completely inside.
"This is similar to what you call a CAT-scanner, but it uses non-hazardous radiation. We need a picture of your brain. Smile, please." A low hum lasted less than a second, then she unlocked it and pulled it away. "That's it. Your prints will be ready Thursday."
I sat up on the table and looked at the visiscreen. On it, a three-dimensional image of my head was forming. The detail was astonishing. When it was complete, she said, "Now we do a little manipulation. First, we scalp you." From top to bottom the scan peeled away the flesh, leaving the skull visible.
"Now we debone you." Again the scan and the skull disappeared, resulting in a sharp image of my brain and part of the spinal column suspended in space. She rotated the image, moved a flashing red cursor across it, and expanded the area under the cursor until it filled the screen. She pointed to a spot on the frontal lobe. "It goes in there, where the other one is now." I tried to remember how it was done the last time, but came up blank, except for recalling that it took about nine hours.
"This machine", she explained, "uses an adaptation of teleportal technology. It takes about forty minutes to position it and make the required neural connections. While it's happening, you'll be immobilized by a stasis field. When it's over it'll be as much a part of you as the brain itself.
"Once the insertion is complete, we'll activate the implant and educate you with everything you'll need to know to use it. From start to finish, it takes about fifty minutes. When you leave, you'll use it like a native."
I stretched out on the table again and said with my best Dudley Doright impression, "Do your worst, you alien fiends. I can take it. I have the strength of ten, for my heart is pure." My watch signalled the hour. I glanced at it. It was 1:00 AM.
"We shall see," she cackled evilly. Tren joined us and said, "Everything's ready." The unit switched itself on, and a fine pattern of laser light scanned over my forehead as the machine calibrated itself in all three axes. A moment later, a green light pulsed. Sara said, "See you in fifty minutes."
"Well, when do we start," I asked a few seconds later. Sara suggested, "Check the time." I did. It was 1:52. I swallowed hard. Almost an hour of my life had just vanished without the merest trace. I felt no different than when I came in. Then Kalen-Li said, "Come on out, brother. We have a lot to do yet."
"You don't seem any the worse for the ordeal," Orii said as I came through the door. "Later, we'll tell you about the side-effects, such as the induced insanity, but..."
One immediately came to mind. "Can you expand on Tren's comment that it can be used to key a teleportal?"
"Okay," I continued, "let's suppose that I'm on a crowded dance floor when the need arises, and I can't slip off to the little boy's room. On a similar note, what happens to anything or anybody near me when I go poof?"
We arrived then at the elevators, and he opened the door to the nearest cart carrier, then keyed in our next stop as the door closed behind us. The ascent was smooth, and thirty seconds later we drove out into a spacious, well-appointed lobby, actually more like a lounge. A sign over the far doorway read, "Communications and Base Control". We drove around the perimeter in a marked aisle, acknowledging the salutes of some of the several hundred people there, then exited through that doorway.
Ahead was a brightly-lit and very colorful corridor of truly impressive proportions, 90 to 100 feet wide, 35 feet high and at least a mile long. It was heavily populated with carts and pedestrians, the latter riding on two moving belts that ran along either side 20 feet above the main floor. Overhead foot bridges spanned the roadway at about 300-foot intervals, and were in constant use by people crossing over or just leaning on the railing to talk and watch the traffic below.
The main cart road was itself 15 feet above ground level, with frequent entry and exit ramps curving off downward to points under the road, leading to exits and crossovers. Corridors branched off the main route at many of these ramp sites, with carts coming and going every few seconds.
Lin-Erri said, "This is a down-sized version of the tube connecting Plato to Copernicus. That one's 150 feet wide, fifty feet high and handles 7000 long range vehicles per day. In answer to your question, we don't drive these little wagons all that way. At approximately fifteen-minute intervals, carrier trains, if you will, arrive at loading stations and whoever needs to go the distance drives into one of their enclosed capsules.
"The trains then descend into one of sixteen evacuated tubes, eight for each direction, that join the bases, and the actual travel time is about thirty minutes. The next corridor to the left is one of the four tube stations." We slowed down as we neared it, and I watched in fascination as a train emerged from its tube and rode on magnetic rails up to the loading platform. A short queue of carts awaited its arrival. Across the corridor, another one was just closing up for departure.
As we accelerated again, Kalen resumed the discussion at hand. "One thing Tren didn't say when he spoke of five billion possible channels is that on Earth and here this number is drastically reduced, here because we don't have that sort of population to support, and on Earth because of the newness of the system. On your world, it's so far confined to about twenty major cities and around our several base locations. Your home town's within the MassCom grid, so your implant will work there, but the covered radius is about thirty miles from base center. Be aware of that limitation.
"Also keep in mind that the MassCom grid presently supports only 1500 simultaneous accesses. At times of heavy usage, that can result in significant delays before link-up. The rule of thumb for courteous use is simple. Keep it short and be sure it's important.
"In fact, the most well-developed grid, around New York City and its suburbs, encompasses only a sixty-mile radius and handles a maximum of 7000 channels. It will be several years before we can create a planet-wide grid, because ideal spots for the transponders aren't usually available and compromises are made that limit their effectiveness. Eventually it will be done, but for now, except for communicators, our agents are frequently on their own."
We arrived at the end of the tunnel and merged via a ramp into the traffic in the perimeter corridor. This one was of about the same configuration as the one we'd just left but about 20% larger yet. "This loop is an exception to the norm," Lin-Erri said. "It's 6.3 miles long, to encompass the greater floor area on this level. On a tangential note, the 37,000 figure we gave you in March for the personnel assignment in this base is obsolete. The present figure is 46,300. By October of 1988 it will peak at 65,000 with a transient population averaging around 10,000 more. Of all these, 38,000 will be here on Level 1. The need for a larger area is obvious."
If I had the merest shred of doubt that the Alliance was committed to a long-term, all-out campaign to rid us of the Omegan influence, it was being rapidly erased. This spectacular base, the product of millions of man-hours of work and a mind-boggling financial outlay, was but one base out of seventeen in this solar system.
Could we conceive of any greater love for our beleaguered little planet than this, that these strangers from beyond the night would invest their time, their resources and often their lives to protect us? Our world, and indeed this Milky Way galaxy, face a menace of dreadful proportions, even as we Earthlings go blissfully about our affairs, oblivious to this immense peril.
It is a tribute to them that we are unaware of them or our enemies from without. The Alliance knows well that we cannot offer more than a token display of overt resistance to the Omegan invaders, that were we to encounter them directly, we'd be crushed mercilessly into the dust beneath their feet. The Omegans are many things, but they are not compassionate.
Earth is a small but crucial part of a grand scheme to wrest control of myriad worlds from the forces of light, and to establish by conquest and warfare an empire of force and fear. It's a confrontation that we'd best exhort the Infinite One to resolve on the side of the just and righteous.
© 2008 Robert P. Renaud -- all rights reserved